Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 14

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Interest, especially for Joe, centered in what Frank Brown, the school pitcher, might do. So, as a matter of fact, was the attention of nearly all the players and spectators on him. For, to a large extent, the victories of the Excelsior team would depend on what their battery could do. Of course it was up to the other players to lend them support, but it was pretty well established that if the pitcher and catcher did well, support would not be lacking.

At the catching end of it Luke Fodick could be depended on nearly every time. But Frank Brown had yet to show what he could do as a twirler. In practice he had made out fairly well, but now the real test was to come.

Naturally he was a bit nervous as he walked to the box, to face his first opponent, none other than Ward Gerard, the scrub captain; and Ward was a good hitter. He managed to hit a two bagger.

Luke and Hiram cast anxious looks at each other. Well they knew how much depended on the showing their pitcher would make.

"Watch yourself, Frank," called Hiram—just the very advice to make poor Frank more nervous. But he braced up, struck out the next man, and managed to hold the succeeding one hitless.

The school nine was now about in the same position as the scrub had been. Their opponents had a man on third and two out. It was a time when Frank needed to brace up, and repeat Joe's trick. But he could not do it. Joe himself came to the bat, and with watchful eyes picked out just the ball he wanted after two strikes had been called on him. He rapped out as pretty a single as had been seen on the diamond in many a long day, and brought in Ward with the first run.

"Wow! Wow!" yelled the scrubs, capering about. "That's the way to do it!"

Luke and Hiram were almost in a panic. They saw the team they had so carefully built up in danger of disintegration; and holding a hasty conference, warning was sent to every school player to do his very best to get the scrub side out without another run.

Frank did it, for he struck out the next man, and Joe died at second. But the scrub had one run and the school nine nothing. It was a poor beginning for Excelsior's chances at the Blue Banner when the players realized what a strong team Morningside had, and how efficient were the other nines in the league.

I am not going to describe that first school-scrub game in detail. I shall have other more important contests to tell you about, as the story goes on. Sufficient to say that after the ending of the first inning Hiram and Luke went at their lads in such a fierce spirit that there was a big improvement.

Joe kept up his good work in the box, but he had not yet "found" himself that season. He was not hardened enough; he lacked practice, and his arm soon gave out. Then, too the fielding of the scrubs was ragged, after Joe once began to be hit. The result was that the school nine began to pile up runs, and Hiram and Luke were jubilant.

"Now, where's your wonderful pitcher?" asked Luke of Ward.

"Oh, he's coming on. No use to work him too hard at first," replied the scrub captain good naturedly. "Look out for your own."

This advice was needed, for, after helping his team to get a good lead, Frank Brown also rather went to pieces and when the game was over the school team led by only two runs.

"That's too close for comfort," observed Hiram to Luke, as they walked off the diamond. "Frank has got to do better than that."

"Oh, he'll be all right after a little more practice," spoke the captain.

"If he isn't Larry Akers will go in," warned the manager.

"Sure. Well, we've got lots of time before the first Mornlngside game. We'll win that."

"I hope we do," but Hiram's tone was not confident. Somehow he was worried over the way Joe Matson pitched.

As for our hero, he was warmly congratulated by his friends. Tom Davis was particularly enthusiastic.

"We'll have you in the box for the school nine before long," he predicted.

"I don't know," answered Joe rather dubiously. "It's a close combination between Hiram and Luke, and they may get Frank Brown into shape."

"Don't you believe it. He can't pitch as good as you in a thousand years."

"That's right," chimed in Teeter.

"Nothing like having good friends," remarked Joe laughingly.

Now that the season was started the baseball practice went on with a vim. Luke and Hiram had some of their players out every day, batting or catching the ball. Others were sent around the track to improve their wind, and in the gymnasium others were set at work on the various machines, as Dr. Rudden found their weak spots.

The school nine battled against the scrub, too, and though Joe improved in his pitching so did the members of the first team in their batting, so that there were no other contests as close as the first one.

The time for the first Morningside game was approaching. It was the first regular contest of the season and as such was always quite an affair. This time it was to be played on the Morningside diamond, and Luke and Hiram were bending every effort to win the game.

The nine picked to play was practically the same as the one that played the first game against the scrub. There had been some shifts, and then shifts back again, and under the urging of the coach, the captain and the manager, the lads had improved very much.

The day of the first game came. In special cars or in stage coaches, for those who preferred that method of locomotion, while some of the more wealthy lads hired autos, the nine and its supporters made their way to Mornlngside. Hiram, Luke and a few of their cronies went in a big touring car that Spencer Trusdell, a millionaire's son, owned.

"Some class to them," remarked Joe, as he and Tom with a squad of the scrub and substitutes, got aboard a trolley car.

"They may have to walk back," predicted Tommy Barton, one of the scrub.

"Why?" asked Joe.

"Spencer may not have money enough left to buy gasolene. He's a sport, you know, and always betting."

"Well, he'll bet on his own nine; won't he?"

"Oh, yes—but—" and Tommy paused significantly.

"You don't mean to say you think Morningside will win, do you?" asked Ward Gerard. "You old traitor, you!"

"I shouldn't be surprised to see our side licked," replied Tommy calmly. "They're soft, and Morningside has already played one game with Trinity and trimmed them."

And as Joe and Tom journeyed to the grounds they heard others say the same thing. nevertheless, Luke, Hiram and their own particular crowd were very confident.

There was a big attendance at the game. The stands were filled with a rustling, yelling, cheering and vari-colored throng—the colors being supplied by scores of pretty girls, whose brothers, or whose friends, played on either nine.

"Jove! What wouldn't I give to be booked to pitch to-day!" exclaimed Joe, as he and Tom found their seats, for neither was on the list of substitutes.

"I know how you feel, old man," sympathized Tom. "But just hang on, and things may come your way."

"Play ball!" cried the umpire, and the first big game of the season for Excelsior Hall was underway.

That contest is still talked about in the annals of the two schools. It started off well, and Excelsior, first to the bat, rapped out two runs before the side was retired. Then came the first real intimation that the opponents of Morningside were weak in several places, notably in the pitching box, and in fielding and stick-work.

Frank Brown, after striking out two men in succession, and giving the impression to his mates that he was going to make good, and to his rivals that they had a strong boxman to fight against—Frank, I say, literally went up in the air.

He was not used to being hooted at and jeered, and this is just what the Morningsideites did to him to get his "goat." They got it, for before the first inning closed he had been unmercifully pounded, and four runs were chalked up to the credit of the foes of Excelsior Hall.

Still that score might not have been so bad had Hiram and Luke kept their heads. They changed their batting order, put in some substitutes, and Hiram used strong language to Frank.

"You've got to do better!" insisted the bullying manager. This had the further effect of getting on Frank's nerves, and he did worse than ever.

"Say, why don't you fellows get a real pitcher?" asked Halsted Hart, manager of the Morningsides.

"This is too easy," added Ted Clay, the opposing pitcher with a laugh.

In desperation Luke finally sent in Larry Akers to pitch. At first he tightened up and stopped the winning streak of Morningside, and then, he, too, fell by the wayside, and the hooting, yelling crowd had his "Angora," as Peaches dolefully remarked.

It might be said in passing that both Peaches and Teeter did well, and George Bland not quite so well. But the rest of the Excelsior team made many errors. Even Luke was not exempt, and this had the further effect of worrying his players.

It is no pleasure to write of that first game, and that is why I have not gone into details about it, for Excelsior Hall is a school dear to my heart, and I do not like to chronicle her defeats.

When the ninth inning came the score stood fourteen to six. In desperation, Luke had sent in Ned Turton to replace Larry. Several of his own friends asked him to give Joe a chance, but neither he nor Hiram would listen. In fact, there was a disagreement between Hiram and Luke. The manager wanted to shift Peaches back to first base but Luke would not hear of it until Hiram threatened to resign as manager, and that so alarmed the captain that he let him have his way.

That settled matters, not because Peaches went to first, though he did good service there, but it was too late to stem the losing tide. The Excelsior team could not get a run in their share of the ninth, and Morningside did not take the trouble to finish out, the final score being fourteen to six in their favor. The opponents of Excelsior had snowed them under.